House Delivers Final Victory for Students and Educators!

By Cynthia McCabe

They did it.

By the hundreds of thousands, NEA members, coalition partners, parents and governors called, emailed and lobbied Congress, demanding they do right by the nation’s students and save 161,000 educators’ jobs threatened by budget cuts.

Congress listened and the U.S. House today authorized $10 billion in emergency funds for the Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act — legislation that will speed money to states to keep teachers and support professionals working.

President Obama signed the bill into law this evening, joined by educators. The bill, passed on a 247-161 vote, also includes $16 billion to reimburse states for social and medical programs.

Without the bill, students returning to school this month and next faced class sizes of up to 40, cuts to courses they need to graduate, and less instruction time. (View a clickable map of the education jobs saved by state.)

Without the bill, laid-off North Carolina teacher Bethany Banks had no classroom to return to next week and no sign that she could pay her mortgage and bills in the month ahead.

“I’m excited,” Banks said of the education jobs victory. She lost her job when her Title I school combined kindergarten and first-grade classes to save money. ”Hopefully this will help me have a job when teachers in my district are coming back to school.”

Without the bill, Pennsylvania school bus driver Chuck Thompson could count at least 20 teachers and 17 fellow education support professionals in his district who were going to lose their jobs permanently.

“This is a no-brainer,” Thompson said. “We need this money.”

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel called the House’s vote a victory for students and educators across the country.

“With this vote, the House reaffirmed that the road to economic security and prosperity runs directly through our nation’s schools,” he said. “As a result of this vote, we expect to see less crowded classrooms, reinstated bus routes and restored education programs and services.”

Analysis by the Congressional Budget Office determined the legislation, which is fully paid for, will reduce the deficit by $1.4 billion over 10 years. The act received strong support from governors and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, as well as the Obama administration, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and key economic and domestic policy advisors.

During the five-month campaign by NEA and 187 partner organizations, activists fanned out from state capitals to social media sites to educate legislators and the public on the myriad aftershocks that would follow the proposed severe cuts to public schools.

Governors of Delaware, Maryland, Illinois, Oregon, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Massachusetts lent their support as well, pointing to the dire situation facing their states’ schools without federal assistance. The Obama administration and Education Secretary Arne Duncan and key economic and domestic policy advisors supported it. It enjoyed bipartisan support, with Senate Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine voting for it in the Senate last week and two Republicans in the House today.

Across the country, NEA members spent the spring and summer sharing their stories on NEA’s EducationVotes about how their layoffs would hurt students. They flew to Washington to lobby their members of Congress. They took to local radio and television airwaves with their message and protested unfair budget cuts at countless state rallies.

Supporters tallied 301,000 emails and 100,000 calls to Congress. More than 35,000 people became active fans of the Speak Up for Education & Kids campaign on Facebook and 145,000 new member lobbyists signed up to take action.

“Several months ago, many considered an education jobs package an impossible dream,” Van Roekel said. “But this victory is the direct result of educators across America speaking up for education and students. Not only will the legislation keep educators working, but it also will ensure that students returning to school in the fall will have the team of educators they need to continue learning.”

He praised House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the House leadership for addressing the education funding crisis. Speaker Pelosi last week issued a rare call for the House to return early from its August recess to take that final vote and speed the funding to public schools.

“We appreciate the unbending support of Rep. Pelosi and the House leadership for putting students ahead of politics,” said Van Roekel. “Fiscal relief to struggling school districts and students unequivocally should remain our top priority as a nation during tough economic times.”

Cathy Koehler, a library media specialist in Little Rock, Ark., knew that without the bill, the situation in her state would have been grim.

“It would have been heartbreaking to start the school year without those educators in the classroom,” she said. “That’s not going to happen now.”

Miguel Gonzalez contributed to this report.

Photo: Pete Souza/White House